The foundation of the university is academic freedom. That this statement may be a cliché does not make it any less true. Unfortunately, a small number of Cornellians seem to believe that expression with which they do not agree has no place on this campus, and that this campus should be a place closed off to perspectives which call for equal rights within Israel-Palestine.
A few examples: Recently, dozens of posters that Students for Justice in Palestine had placed in Lincoln Hall and elsewhere on campus were ripped down. At a talk we hosted last semester, a student repeatedly interrupted our invited speaker, Noura Erakat, during the Q-and-A – a violation of the Cornell Code of Conduct, which prohibits disruptions. And at our November 19 protest against Israeli war crimes in Gaza, the head of Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to the Sun’s own reporting, asked the campus police to remove the Students for Justice in Palestine protest from Ho Plaza. The police did so, in the process threatening one member of SJP with arrest and physically assaulting a female protester.
Some of these instances we find less worrying than others. If students wish to rip down our posters, we find it unpleasant but we understand that there are those on campus who simply don’t believe in freedom of expression for points of view which with which they disagree.
Some violations are more worrying – particularly as they become a pattern. Still worse are those that occur amidst a fog of misinformation. For example, we are concerned that students and faculty are unaware that at the “controversial” protests which took place last fall, during the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip, we called a demonstration on November 16, following the campus code, which states that there is “no need for a mandatory permit procedure for…outdoor activities,” including “outdoor picketing, marches, rallies, and other demonstrations.”
CIPAC, which seeks to silence the Palestinian narrative, called a counter-rally in response to our rally, and brought in a booming sound system to drown out our voices – a clear violation of the campus code, which requires respecting the free speech of others. Even when in disagreement. They used that sound system to shout out their support for Israeli violence as we read a list of the names of men, women, and children murdered in the Gaza Strip. They then asked the campus police to remove us from Ho Plaza, arguing that they had “reserved the space,” flouting both the letter and spirit of the campus code – where absolutely no provision can be found which requires groups to acquire permits before protesting, in Ho Plaza or anywhere else. Nor can such a provision be found in any campus regulation.
In turn, the campus police cleared our demonstration off Ho Plaza, harassing faculty members and throwing students to the ground. In response to these events, Kathy Zoner claimed that “it’s just a matter of who filed for the space.” Unfortunately, Zoner either does not know the campus code or was willfully ignoring it. Either way, disciplinary action is merited. But ought anyone be surprised? This is the same woman who trained with Israeli security forces in October 2011. Upon her return, she reflected that Cornell needs “to find a balance between academic freedom as well as keeping people safe.” Plainly, the campus police are succeeding at neither. People are not kept safe by being thrown to the ground.
We cannot pretend that these are isolated events. They are part of a systemic pattern of repression, oriented towards preventing our message from getting out.
So that there isn’t any confusion, we should be as clear as possible. We call for equal civic and political rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, the end of the ongoing military occupation of Arab lands, and the protection of the Palestinian Right of Return to their homes from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1947-1948, a right which has been secured by international law. Some of us also call for the redistribution of wealth. We call for sanctioning and boycotting Israel until those rights are respected. We are saddened that simple calls for freedom, justice, and equality are constantly equated with Jew-hatred on this campus, or cast as being “anti-Israel.”
But we understand that most people at Cornell will agree with this program, and that it is only a militantly conservative minority that seeks to use any means at its disposal – unfortunately, with the open support of the administration – to prevent us from expressing these thoughts. None of this is unexpected. Israeli policies are indefensible. So its “defenders” are resorting to a time-honored strategy: censor those who point this out by any means possible.
We do not think we are taking a radical stance in saying that this behavior should be unacceptable at Cornell.